A Nuclear Weapons Free World: Utopian Dream?
2010 University of Melbourne Arts Dean's Lecture by Professor the Hon Gareth Evans*, School of Social and Political Sciences, The University of Melbourne, 20 September 2010
A great many people around the world, probably most who have ever thought about it – and I suspect most here this evening – think that achieving a nuclear weapons free world is an utterly unrealisable, Utopian dream. I believe that pessimism is unjustified, and I will try to explain why in this talk. But I can certainly understand the scepticism. Holding the line against further proliferation will be hard enough. Getting dramatic reductions in the world’s stockpile of nuclear weapons will be formidably difficult. And eliminating them completely will be fantastically difficult. Of all the public policy problems with which I have ever wrestled, these are by far the toughest.
One of the things that makes the enterprise even harder is that so few people, policymakers and publics alike, feel especially agitated about present nuclear threats. But again, it is not too hard to understand that complacency. It’s 65 years, after all, isn’t it, since anyone was actually killed by a nuclear weapon? The Cold War, with all its tensions and dangers, has been over for twenty years, hasn’t it? Yes, North Korea and Iran seem a bit troubling, but doomsayers have been crying wolf about one threat or another now for decades, haven’t they, with nothing ever happening? Isn’t this all yesterday’s problem, not today’s?
But too many people seem to have forgotten that the boy who cried wolf did actually end up getting eaten. The real truth of the matter is that it is not statesmanship, or good professional management, or anything inherently stable about the world’s nuclear weapon systems that has let us survive so long without catastrophe, but rather sheer dumb luck. It simply cannot be assumed that luck will continue indefinitely. The threats we face are real, immediate and immense. Confronting them now is not a matter of choice but necessity.
Why Complacency is Not an Option
Threat number one comes from the existing stockpile. Despite big reductions which occurred immediately after the end of the Cold War, there are at least 23,000 nuclear warheads still in existence, with a combined destructive capability of 150,000 Hiroshima-sized bombs. Over 9,000 of them are in the hands of the US, around 13,000 with Russia, and around 1000 with the other nuclear-armed states combined (China, France, UK, India, Pakistan, Israel and – at the margin – North Korea). More than a third of all these weapons – over 7,000 – remain operationally deployed. And, most extraordinarily of all, over 2000 of the US and Russian weapons remain on dangerously high alert, ready to be launched on warning in the event of a perceived attack, within a decision window for each President of four to eight minutes.
Given what we now know about how many times the very sophisticated command and control systems of the Cold War years were strained by mistakes and false alarms; given what we know about how much less sophisticated are the command and control systems of some of the newer nuclear-armed states; and given what we both know and can guess about how much more sophisticated and capable cyber offence will be of overcoming cyber defence in the years ahead, it is utterly wishful thinking to believe that our Cold War luck can continue in perpetuity. As the Canberra Commission put it, starkly and succinctly, in 1996: so long as any nuclear weapons remain anywhere, they are bound one day to be used - if not by design, then by mistake or miscalculation.
We have been even closer to catastrophe in the past than most people know. Communications satellite launches have been mistaken for nuclear missile launches; demonstration tapes of incoming missiles have been confused for the real thing; technical glitches have triggered real-time alerts; live nuclear weapons have been flown by mistake around the US without anyone noticing until the plane returned to base. And during the Cuban missile crisis in 1962 we now know, as some old Soviet files have come to light, that we were even closer to Armageddon than anyone in the West has previously been aware. There were in fact, before the US blockade, a number of Soviet tactical nuclear weapons already deployed in the area, on land and at sea. During the blockade, the US Navy dropped a number of depth charges intended purely for warning purposes, but one exploded close enough to a Soviet submarine to knock out all its communications with Moscow. The submarine commander, navigating blind and deaf and not knowing whether war had broken out, had to decide either to surface or to use its nuclear torpedo. He decided to share the burden of decision with his two deputies. And World War III was averted – by two votes to one.
Threat number two is proliferation – new states adding new stockpiles, with all the risks of deliberate or inadvertent use that come with them. So long as any state retains nuclear weapons, others will want them, for reasons that may be wrongheaded but have their own force: maybe to buy perceived equivalent prestige in the case of relatively strong powers; or to try to buy immunity from attack in the case of weak ones. India, Pakistan and Israel have already joined the five original nuclear powers. North Korea has thumbed its nose at the NPT, and now has five or six nuclear explosive devices. Iran may or may not be preparing to follow suit; if it does, others in the region are bound to join in. The ‘cascade’ of proliferation which has been feared since the 1960s may not now be far away.
Add to all that now risk number three: of terrorist actors getting their hands on a nuclear weapon or the makings of one. We can no longer be under any illusions about the intent of certain messianic groups to cause destruction on a massive scale. And – although the probability is small, and probably lower than some alarmist accounts have suggested – their capacity should not be underestimated to put together a Hiroshima-sized nuclear device, using manageable technology long in the public domain and back-channel sourcing of the kind the AQ Khan network taught us to be alarmed about, and explode it from the inside of a delivery truck in Trafalgar Square, or Times Square or Federation Square – or a small boat in New York harbour or on the Thames –causing in each case hundreds of thousands of deaths and injuries. Pakistan, rightly, continues to be the main focus of concern here: as one senior US analyst (Bruce Reidel) has put it, “It has more terrorists per square mile than anyplace else on earth, and it has a nuclear weapons programme that is growing faster than anywhere else on earth”.
The fourth threat is associated with the likely rapid expansion of civil nuclear energy in the decades ahead, in response not least to the need for non-fossil fuel contributions to base-load electricity generation. The present total of over 400 nuclear power reactors is predicted to close to double by 2030, with many new countries taking up this option. The problem is not so much with the power generating plants themselves, but new uranium enrichment or plutonium reprocessing facilities such countries may be tempted to build: the civil nuclear ‘renaissance’ could see the emergence of many more “bomb starter kits” of the kind that have caused so much anxiety in North Korea and Iran.
The bottom line is this. Nuclear weapons are not only the most indiscriminately inhumane weapons ever invented, and for that reason alone worth every possible effort to eliminate, but the only weapons ever invented that have the capacity to wholly destroy life on this planet as we know it. And the arsenals we now possess – taking into account the technical refinement of current weapons and their combination of blast, radiation and ‘nuclear winter’ effects ¬¬– are able to do so many times over. The only remotely comparable existential threat is from global warming – and nuclear bombs will kill us much faster than CO2. There is only one way we can be confident that will never occur: stopping the further spread of nuclear weapons, and reducing the existing stockpiles to zero.
Waking the Sleepers
There are those who argue, right at the threshold of this debate, that nuclear weapons cannot be uninvented so there is simply no point in even trying to eliminate them. But this completely misses the point. Of course nuclear weapons cannot be uninvented, any more than any other human creation. But they can be outlawed, as chemical and biological weapons have been. What is required, as in so many other policy contexts, is just the political will: for states to be convinced that they could protect their vital interests without them, and to be confident that verification and enforcement procedures are in place that will stop any cheating. Tough conditions to meet, yes, and not presently within reach. But – as we will see – not totally impossible ones.
The good news is that, after a decade or more of disarmament sleepwalking, there have been real signs of such serious political will emerging. The less good news is that it will take many years of sustained, grinding commitment to fundamentally change the game on the ground. But at least the current signs are positive.
The initial intellectual breakthrough came with the now-famous Wall Street Journal article in January 2007 by four hard-nosed, hard-headed US Cold War realists – Henry Kissinger, George Shulz, William Perry and Sam Nunn – who argued (in a way that exactly echoed the pathbreaking 1996 Canberra Commission report but has proved far more publicly influential ) that whatever contribution nuclear weapons might have made to global stability during the Cold War years of confrontation with the Soviet Union, in the new environment of multiple state and non-state actors, regional volatility and state and system fragility, any conceivable benefit from their retention was far outweighed by the costs, and serious steps should be taken toward their elimination.
The political breakthrough that then followed was the election of President Obama, who came to office accepting all these arguments as no other U.S. President – and almost no other world leader – had done, and spelled out almost immediately, in his Prague speech of 5 April 2009, a broad program of action to put them into effect, which generated an immensely positive international reaction, including where it immediately mattered most, from Russian President Medvedev. This has already borne fruit in the conclusion of the U.S.-Russia new START treaty, aimed at reducing both countries’ deployed strategic weapons. It has also produced some modest limitations the role of nuclear weapons in U.S. nuclear doctrine; a Washington summit reaching useful agreement on the implementation of improved nuclear security measures; and a generally more positive atmosphere resulting in hard-to-achieve consensus at the recently concluded five-yearly Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference on some useful steps forward, including a 2012 conference designed to move forward discussion of a nuclear weapons free zone in the MidEast.
One of the spin-offs of Obama’s Prague speech was to give hugely accelerated momentum to the efforts of the International Commission on Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament (ICNND) , which was established by the Australian and Japanese governments in 2008 – with me and former Japanese Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi as co-chairs, and a very strong worldwide cast of commissioners – initially with the main aim of energizing a high level international policy debate on issues which had dropped out of policymaking consciousness. With Obama’s speech building on the ‘gang of four’ statements, that debate was well and truly started, and our exercise became one of translating broad conceptual commitments into a detailed and deliverable program of action.
What is crucial, we argued, is to build a comprehensive global strategy with specific action agendas for the short, medium and long term – which we spelled out in detail; to stick to that strategy come what may; and to work at generating the kind of momentum that will ultimately prove self-sustaining and self-reinforcing. I think we can reasonably claim to have succeeded in our aim of focusing and energising detailed debate, and encouraging some initial steps forward, including in the NPT Review Conference outcome document. You could be forgiven for thinking otherwise, from the negligible attention our report received in Australia and the sceptical putdowns of some of our commentariat who did notice it, but it generated a very positive response from press and policymakers almost everywhere else in the world.
It is now generally accepted that, as the Commission and others have framed the current debate, there are three big inter-related objectives about which we have to get serious simultaneously: first, disarmament, not just reducing nuclear weapons but ultimately eliminating them - getting to zero; second, non-proliferation, holding a very tight line against new players coming into the weapons game and taking action to reduce the proliferation risks associated with any major expansion of civil nuclear energy; and third, the building blocks for both disarmament and non-proliferation, of which there are in turn three key elements – a comprehensive test ban treaty, a global ban on the production of any new material for fissile purposes, and effective measures of nuclear security to guard existing weapon and fissile material stocks against theft or diversion.
So, taking them in reverse order, what does getting serious mean in each of these areas, how far have we come to date, and what remains to be done?
Getting Serious about the Building Blocks
It is difficult to overstate the importance of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) as a crucial building block for both non-proliferation and disarmament, setting as it does a qualitative cap on the capacity of both existing weapons possessors and potential new ones to develop new nuclear weapons. But although concluded in 1996, the treaty is still not in force – and the only thing stopping testing is a fragile voluntary moratorium. Entry into force specifically depends on ratification by nine states who have not done so – six who have at least signed it (US, China, Indonesia, Egypt, Iran and Israel) and three who have not (India, Pakistan and North Korea). Indonesia has announced that it will now move to ratification, but the crucial holdout is the US: if Washington moves this will be a real circuit-breaker, certainly with China and India in the first instance. President Obama announced in Prague last year that he was determined to “immediately and aggressively pursue US ratification” but has so far been unable to deliver on that promise, with ever more aggressive partisan politics placing the necessary 67 Senate votes, for the time being at least, out of reach.
The quantitative counterpart to banning testing is verifiably banning the production of further quantities of fissile material – highly enriched uranium or plutonium – for weapons purposes. That would be achieved by negotiating to conclusion the Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty (FMCT) now before the UN Conference on Disarmament in Geneva. But despite years of skirmishing – and renewed statements of determination by nearly all the key players over the last two years to get the process moving – negotiations remain completely paralysed as a result of Pakistan refusing the necessary consensus to even let them commence (probably, let it be acknowledged, with the tacit support of China and India, both of whom are also currently busy adding to their arsenals). The UN Secretary General is convening a ministerial meeting shortly to try to break this logjam, but it would be unwise to hold one’s breath.
The only reasonably good news on the building blocks front is in the area of nuclear security, where President Obama’s Washington Summit in April did secure agreement from all the key players to put maximum effort into the effective practical implementation of the multiple treaties, resolutions, arrangements and cooperative threat reduction programs already in place – many of them agreed after 9/11 – designed to put so-called “loose nukes”, i.e. nuclear weapons and materials insufficiently guarded against theft or diversion, once and for all out of the reach of rogue states and non-state terrorist actors. It cannot be assumed that these measures are currently watertight, or will be for the foreseeable future, but as much is being done as could reasonably be expected.
Getting Serious about Non-Proliferation
Getting serious about non-proliferation means in the first instance effectively remedying weaknesses in the Non-Proliferation Treaty regime, and strengthening the relevant watchdog organisation, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). But even though those weaknesses have been clearly identified, not least in our Commission report, and widely acknowledged, the news here is not especially encouraging: the most that can be said is that all this is still work in progress.
It is recognised that the traditional safeguards system, which focuses essentially on accountancy – tracking the flow of materials inside civil reactors and ensuring there is no diversion to military purposes – has to be supplemented by a proper detection system, enabling the following up, with effective inspections, of intelligence received about a state engaging in unreported fuel cycle activity, or more seriously still, actual weapon design or engineering. There is a voluntary ‘Additional Protocol’ by which states can agree to these additional disciplines, but it has not been universally embraced and there has been a reluctance by many NPT members to put pressure on the foot-draggers by making its acceptance a condition of supply by others of nuclear technology or materials.
It is also widely recognized that there need to be some explicit pains and penalties attached to a state purporting to walk away from the NPT - as North Korea has done – after spending years sheltering under it building weapons capacity in the guise of a peaceful program. But again, with a number of states claiming that this is at odds with the general right under international law to withdraw from any treaty, action has so far gone no further than rhetoric
It is also widely recognised that the IAEA badly needs more personnel, expanded and updated laboratories and general budgetary support if it is to be able to do its monitoring and inspection job, and a hopefully expanded such job in the future, with maximum efficiency, but its member states have again, so far anyway, shied away from delivering much more than purely rhetorical support.
Getting serious about non-proliferation also means addressing the proliferation risks potentially associated likely dramatic expansion of civil nuclear energy in the years ahead. Proliferation resistant technology – involving mainly new reactor designs which don’t require or produce sensitive material – may be part of the answer in the longer run, but the most immediate need is to ensure that no new ‘bomb starter kits’ are built by new countries. That means in turn being able to offer them assurances of supply of the fuel they need, the creation of an internationally managed fuel bank, or some other multilateral arrangement that would pose less risk. While all these options are under active discussion by the IAEA Board of Governors, agreement on any of them, in a way that would put this concern to rest, is still some distance away.
The most immediately pressing of all non-proliferation needs is of course to deal effectively with the specific problems of North Korea and Iran – getting Pyongyang back into the NPT box, and ensuring that Tehran doesn’t jump out of it. Although the North Korean problem on the face of it is more immediately serious, given that it has already tested nuclear explosive devices and possesses half dozen or so of them, it is in a sense more manageable: neither of the countries most threatened by this development, Japan or South Korea, have shown any signs of wanting to join the race; there is no reason to fear – unless one accepts a ‘madman’ theory, never usually a good idea in international relations despite its popularity in the world’s tabloids – that North Korea would ever commit national suicide by actually using its devices aggressively; and with the succession issue now apparently close to final resolution, there are signs – as Jimmy Carter reported in the New York Times last week after paying a recent visit – that it is again getting serious about restarting denuclearisation negotiations. Don’t hold your breath for a result – nothing in this country is ever beyond doubt – but the old contain-and-deter-but-keep-the-door-open-for-negotiations formula seems to be working.
The Case of Iran
The Iran case is more alarming, not only because just one or two nuclear bombs in its possession would be seen, understandably, as an immediate existential threat by Israel, but also because its other major neighbours – Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Turkey - would almost certainly respond with bombs of their own. Tehran’s secretive and unresponsive behaviour has certainly justified the international sanctions that have been imposed so far, but it has always been Quixotic to think that pressure of this kind alone would be enough to stop Iran’s uranium enrichment program dead in its tracks. One does not have to look hard for reasons for Iran pushing the limits of international tolerance as far as it has to date: making up for the humiliations of the Mossadeq era and beyond; demonstrating technological prowess and generally cutting a figure in the region and the wider world; and thumbing its nose at those Western powers whose perceived double standards abandoned Iran to the chemical weapons-mercies of Saddam Hussein in the war of the late 80s.
My own firm belief is that Iran will actually stop well short of actually making the nuclear weapons it may soon have the capability to produce. This is based on my own many off-the-record discussions with senior officials, including key arms negotiators, in Tehran, New York, Vienna and elsewhere over the last few years, wearing my various hats as former Foreign Minister, President of the International Crisis and co-chair of the ICNND. In those discussions I have regularly heard five distinct reasons why Iran would not actually weaponise (albeit never put quite as succinctly as I am about to summarise them). Though I am well aware that others will disagree, I think these arguments deserve to be taken seriously.
The first is that Israel will indeed perceive the existence of one or two Iranian bombs as an intolerable existential threat, demanding a pre-emptive military attack with or without US support, with resources Tehran knows it cannot match. But Iranians consider such an attack very unlikely provided they do not cross the red line of actual weaponisation.
Second, it is well understood that there is zero tolerance in Moscow and Beijing for an Iranian bomb, and all the rope that Russia and China have allowed Iran in the Security Council so far will completely run out if Iran weaponises. The writing on this wall is seen more clearly still after the most recent round of sanctions negotiations.
Third, following from this, there is a clear perception that if Iran acquires an actual bomb, the globally enforced economic sanctions regime will become impossibly stringent. Financial sanctions, direct and indirect, are biting already – including on the significant economic interests of the Revolutionary Guard – but have been tolerable in the context of asserting Iran’s “right to enrich” under the NPT. Once in obvious breach of that treaty, serious universal buy-in to a much-tougher-still sanctions regime is seen as inevitable.
Fourth, it is acknowledged that any regional hegemony Iran is likely to buy with nuclear weapons is likely to be fairly short-lived. There is certainly some scepticism about the capacity of Egypt, Saudi Arabia or Turkey to move quickly to build bombs of their own, and a belief that they would be under much international pressure, especially from the US not to do so, but – equally – a clear view that Arab-Persian, Sunni-Shiite or more straightforward regional power anxieties would make such moves inevitable.
A fifth reason, invariably put with great passion, is religious: weapons of mass destruction are simply against every precept of Islam. This is not a factor to which Western cynics will give much credence, but it has echoed very strongly in every private conversation I have ever had with Iranian officials, great or minor, as it does in all their public statements. And it is not without plausibility: Iran did not, after all, respond in kind when it was bombarded with chemical weapons by Iraq.
None of this is to suggest that Iranian intentions can be taken absolutely on trust. There is too much history, and too many ongoing grounds for suspicion, for that. Any agreement involving the lifting of sanctions and Iran’s diplomatic isolation would need to be accompanied by Iran accepting very intrusive monitoring, inspection and verification arrangements, going not only to all its nuclear power facilities but also to any suspected weapons design or engineering facilities – and giving others in the international community real confidence that they would have some twelve months lead time in which to respond to any evidence of real intent to move to weaponisation.
But it does suggest there is a solid foundation of rationality on which to build in keeping the door well ajar for negotiations. Iran is an extraordinarily complex country, and often perplexing to outsiders. But just as we cannot afford to misread the forces of extremism that undoubtedly persist, we also fail at our peril to read those currents of restraint and good sense that are running within the country, not just in the wider community but at high policymaking levels.
Getting Serious about Disarmament
Holding the line against new proliferation breakouts is of course only part of the story. The nuclear threat will continue to hang over us until the last nuclear-armed state destroys its last weapon, and we have to get serious, now, about disarmament. That means the five original nuclear weapons state members of the NPT getting serious, in a way that they have never been in the past, about their explicit commitment under Article VI of that Treaty to go down that path. And it also means the three nuclear-armed elephants outside the NPT – India, Pakistan and Israel – also being prepared to ultimately eliminate their own respective arsenals.
The realistic way forward, as our Commission argued and has been very widely accepted, is to treat the enterprise as involving two very distinct phases – minimization and elimination – setting a specific target date for the first, but recognising that identifying a credible target date for getting to zero is much more difficult. For achieving the ‘minimization point’, we argued that 2025 can and should be set as the target date. Getting there would involve three things. First, the reduction of overall nuclear weapons numbers by over 90 per cent, from 23,000 down to less than 2,000: with the US and Russia coming down to 500 each, and all the other nuclear armed states retaining no more than 1,000 between them (which would require none of them to give up, if that’s what they are concerned about, minimum deterrent capability); second, all nuclear states signing up to a doctrine of no first use; and third, all of them giving credibility to that commitment by limiting their actual deployments to an absolute minimum, and certainly (hopefully long before 2025) taking all their weapons off high alert launch status. Getting to this point will be tough, but doable. And it will make the world much safer than it is now.
But getting from there to zero will, however, we have to acknowledge, much tougher: it will be perceived by all the relevant players as not just further steps in the same game, but a different game, and one for which it not possible at this stage to set a credible concluding date. Geopolitical and psychological factors will be very much in play: states in dangerous neighbourhoods, like South Asia and the Middle East are going to be very hard to persuade to give up their nuclear weapons unless and until the underlying tensions in those regions are basically resolved, however unuseable those weapons might be by any rational calculation. And states like France – for whom nuclear weapons have always been more a matter of national status and prestige than anything rationally advancing their security – will have to be persuaded that their standing won’t decline.
Moreover, every nuclear armed state is going to have to be persuaded that verification and enforcement arrangements are in place that will ensure absolutely that no state will be able to rearm without being detected in ample time, and that it will be able to be stopped from going further, without the kind of inhibition created by present Security Council veto rights.
The point is not to be spooked by these realities, but to regard them as challenges that can and will, over time, be overcome. States like the UK and Norway are working hard now on shaping a verification regime that will work in a global zero world. What seems unthinkable now is likely to seem much more achievable ten years from now: just as pessimism can feed on itself and produce pessimism, so too are positive developments self-reinforcing.
The objective now must be focus single-mindedly on the minimization strategy: to bed down the new START Treaty between the US and Russia, and to start almost immediately on the next round of serious bilateral arms reduction negotiations. There are plenty of obstacles ahead in this respect, not least the current Russian preoccupation with the US’s perceived massive current conventional weapons superiority, and the problems posed by its ballistic missile defence programs, but they are not insuperable. At the same time the foundations have to be laid for eventual multilateral negotiations with the other key players - not least China (which has concerns about US capability very similar to Russia’s), India and Pakistan, in respect to all of whom the first priority must be try to reach agreement on a freeze on additions to their present arsenals.
Of course it is the case that no progress will be made on the nuclear front without serious efforts to remove other sources of tension both globally, and in the different regions. That’s true of South Asia and North East Asia, and nowhere are regional tensions more acute at the moment than in the Middle East. But the nuclear dynamic at work there is by no means hopeless. It is clear talking to Israeli officials that they are no longer obsessed, as they were in decades past, at the prospect of being overrun by their vastly bigger Arab neighbours: they know, as does everyone else, that their formidable military capable is totally capable of dealing with any non-nuclear threat contingency. Their real concern these days is with a possible nuclear-armed Iran. Which combination in turn makes the idea of a Middle East nuclear weapon free zone, which they could join with their Arab neighbours in supporting, much less unattractive than it was in the past, and the prospect of their cooperation in the 2012 Middle East Conference on such a zone much stronger in fact than their initial public reaction would suggest. And I have already argued that Iran might in fact not prove as big a problem as is currently widely assumed.
Achieving a nuclear weapons world is not an impossible dream, but it will certainly be an incredibly hard slog. To get there, the critical need is to build and sustain the necessary political will. That has many ingredients, as the Commission spelled out in its report, but the most critical of them will be the right leadership. And that has to come at three different levels: top down, sideways from peers, and bottom up.
The crucial top-down leadership is going to have to come from the US and Russia: holding between them 95 per cent of the world’s nuclear weapons, disarmament is inconceivable unless they lead the way bilaterally. Presidents Obama and Medvedev have made a flying start, but the next two years will be crucial in determining whether that momentum can be maintained.
When it comes to peer group leverage, Australia can play a very important role, as it has in the past on issues like chemical weapons, and in its sponsorship of both the Canberra Commission and the ICNND. What is crucial now is to mobilise like-minded countries around the world to maintain the pressure on all the relevant players to do everything that is necessary to advance the disarmament, non-proliferation and building block agendas I have described.
One way of doing that – on which I am presently pursuing the new government in Canberra (as well as Switzerland and Austria and a number of others) – would be for these countries to support financially the Commission’s proposal to establish, as an ongoing vehicle for analysis, advocacy and pressure, a high profile, independent Global Centre for Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament. That Centre would have two distinctive missions – first, to produce an annual score-card which would spell out clear benchmarks for progress, critically monitor how they are being met, and be effective advocates for change; and second to be the international body coordinating worldwide work on crafting a new Nuclear Weapons Convention that would provide a workable framework for ultimate multilateral negotiations.
And when it comes to bottom up pressure, the critical need is to engage and energise influential civil society figures, key NGOs around the world, and the publics on whose support they depend, to focus on what needs to be done, year by year, step by step, and to hold governments relentlessly to account if they fall short. One way of doing that – on which I am also presently working with others – is to create a worldwide set of leadership networks, comprising former heads of government, senior ministers and others who may be capable of influencing their own and other governments to take these issues seriously.
The really crucial need, of course, is to somehow capture the imagination of publics around the world in the same way it has been by that other great threat to our global survival, man-made climate change. Maybe the vehicle for that is now to hand with the new film Countdown to Zero, premiered a few weeks ago in the US and scheduled for worldwide distribution in coming months, by exactly the same documentary team that produced Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth. I certainly hope so.
It has been said before, and let this be my last word, that the world is divided between those who make things happen, those who watch things happen, and those who wonder what happened. If we are going to generate effective action to avoid the horror of nuclear obliteration it will mean continuing determined effort from all those passionately committed to making disarmament happen. And that means not just from national and international leaders but from everyone, ordinary citizens in every country across every corner of the globe who are capable of influencing them. As I have said many times before in different contexts, you don’t get to change the world simply by observing it.
*Chancellor, Australian National University
President Emeritus, International Crisis Group
Co-Chair, International Commission on Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament
Former Foreign Minister of Australia